Don't get too relaxed about your pension

George Osborne might leave pensions alone for now, says Merryn Somerset Webb. But don't count on it staying that way.

It's been a good week for readers trying to save. Last month we suggested that you panic about your pension provisions. With George Osborne having made it pretty clear that he wasn't done with his tax relief tinkering, we figured there was a very strong chance that higher earners would see their reliefs slashed. So we told you to pile cash in while you still could. I suspect a good many of you have done just that (I certainly have). That's good saving is almost never bad. But the good news is that the urgency seems to be gone.

Osborne has let it be known that he doesn't intend to make more major changes to the pension system in next week's Budget: you no longer need to feel panicked into super-scrimping in order to get a few more tax-free pennies into your pension wrapper before the 15th. That said, we don't think you should relax. The UK government is still broke and the tax relief on pension contributions is still very expensive. This isn't going away: at some point after the referendum, the 25% tax-free lump sum will go and so will higher and top-rate tax relief. This is not an "if", but a "when".

So what should those of us who have shovelled extra cash into our pensions now invest in? The other reason I say it has been a good week for MoneyWeek readers is because most of you (those of you who pay any attention, at least) will be holding some gold. That's doing fabulously well up 20% this year. We think that will continue as does one of our favourite strategists, Russell Napier.

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People are gradually realising where policy is likely to go next; debt monetisation, helicopter money and all manner of fiscal distributions that will eventually cause inflation. Gold, Napier says, has just entered a 20- to 30-year bull market. Best have some. It might offer you no income, but it should come good on capital gains.

In this week's cover story,we look at the UK's top dividend-paying shares. What's safe and what's not? One key point to note is that almost all dividends are safer than they should be in the short term. The very low interest-rate environment means that the big shareholders are desperate for yield and are putting huge pressure on firms to keep dividends high: "if we cut the dividend we will be out of a job", one CEO told me last week. That might be nice for now. But it hints at long-term problems. Firms that pay out too much cash in dividends can't invest for future growth. If we get more now, I'm afraid we may get less in the future.

Merryn Somerset Webb

Merryn Somerset Webb started her career in Tokyo at public broadcaster NHK before becoming a Japanese equity broker at what was then Warburgs. She went on to work at SBC and UBS without moving from her desk in Kamiyacho (it was the age of mergers).

After five years in Japan she returned to work in the UK at Paribas. This soon became BNP Paribas. Again, no desk move was required. On leaving the City, Merryn helped The Week magazine with its City pages before becoming the launch editor of MoneyWeek in 2000 and taking on columns first in the Sunday Times and then in 2009 in the Financial Times

Twenty years on, MoneyWeek is the best-selling financial magazine in the UK. Merryn was its Editor in Chief until 2022. She is now a senior columnist at Bloomberg and host of the Merryn Talks Money podcast -  but still writes for Moneyweek monthly. 

Merryn is also is a non executive director of two investment trusts – BlackRock Throgmorton, and the Murray Income Investment Trust.